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If you can read this, thank my tattoo...

..And I don't just mean that in a cutesy "because if I didn't get this tattoo, there's be nothing for you to read, hardee-har-har." If you can read this, you're obviously familiar with the letters that comprise the written English alphabet. And that's what my tattoo is of.

Backstory time! A couple of years ago, I was browsing though the Lettering Tattoos section on BME (as I am wont to do, being a big fan of text tattoos) when I came across an alphabet tattoo. Had I been a Tex Avery cartoon wolf, my heart would have jumped from my chest, my jaw would have become unhinged and dropped to the floor, and I probably would have let out a lusty howl. Being a mere human, at most my jaw might've slackened a bit and my eyes may have widened.

You see, I'm one of those crazy people you might've heard about who loves language, specifically English. And, more specifically, the written language. I just love the way it looks. Beyond that, I use it all the time. It's my primary mode of communication, as well as how I get most of my information. Excepting a few Spanish words, it has shaped every word I've ever written and most thoughts that I've expressed to other people. Inventing an alphabet is one of the most important accomplishments in mankind's history. And I wanted to celebrate all of that.

So I knew from the moment I saw it that I was going to get that tattoo. I looked for an iam name, an email address - something that I could have used to contact the bearer to say, "hey, I hope you don't mind, but I'm totally ripping off your tattoo at some point in the future." But there was nothing of the sort.

I soon decided that I didn't want that exact tattoo, anyway. It was all lower-cased letters is some typeface that didn't hold any special meaning for me. And I'm one for whom tattoos under my skin must have meaning. I'm also not comfortable with outright stealing the tattoos that others have, so I figured on changing it up a bit.

I decided to do it in my own handwriting. I fancy myself a bit of a writer and enjoy writing things out longhand. Beyond that, I actually kinda like the look of my handwriting. Additionally, I decided to use both capital and lowercase letters, like an alphabet that one might see stretched over the board in thousands of classrooms around the country (perhaps as an additional nod to my current job as an educator).

I like to sit with my tattoo ideas for a while to make sure that I can live with them and won't be changing my mind about them any time soon. I buy myself a tattoo for my birthday every year, so I figured I'd get this one on my twenty-sixth. It'd be perfect - twenty-six years, twenty-six letters. It was still a couple of years off at the time, but I can be quite patient.

In the meantime, I wrote the alphabet out a couple of dozen times, trying to get it 'just right.' Sort of hard to do when you're trying to both write in your natural style and to make it so that it'll look decent and readable. I became very aware of the empty space in my "b"s and how close the arches of my "m"s were.

Since I'd gotten my last tattoo, my usual artist had changed shops. I wasn't sure if I should stick with the old shop, the artist, or take the opportunity to find something totally new. I've been happy with my artist's work and feel comfortable around him, so I decided to go back to him.

I went up to True Tattoo about a month before my birthday to check out the shop and drop off my idea. John seemed genuinely happy to see me (as well as surprised that I'd tracked him down), so that made me feel good about my decision to keep going with him. I showed him my idea and we talked about how it would be best done (thick lines vs. thin lines; capital and lowercase or just one of them).

I wanted the tattoo on my left leg, wrapping around the upper calf. For one thing, that's just where it goes in my grand scheme of things. For another, it would be a mirror to the One Ring tattoo I have on my right leg. I lifted up my pant leg and he wrapped the paper around it, confirming that it would work well just the way I'd wanted it. Now all I had to do was pick out just which string of letters I'd written out that I wanted to use. And wait.

For once, waiting was the easy part. I found little flaws in each string of letters. Figuring I could either write it out until my fingers bled and still not get it perfect, or just choose one already, I just chose one already.

I rode up to the shop at the set time on the set date, wondering how riding my motorcycle home with a fresh tattoo would be. Probably not bad, as tattoos and motorcycles traditionally go together like two things that go really well together. I was a bit early and John was still working on a tattoo, so I flipped through the portfolios, glad that I was seeing the artist I was seeing and not some of the others.

He finished up and came out to make a transfer of the selected text. He said that it would work, but he might have to open up the "a" and "m" a bit. I'd expected that, so it was fine by me. Oddly, I was never asked to fill out any paperwork or show identification. I know the tattooist, sure, but I'd never been to that shop before and figured it would be part of the procedure. It actually made me a bit wary.

John consulted with (I assume) the owner to get a price quoted. I found it rather high, but went along with it. You get what you pay for, and I was willing to pay for John's work.

He got the transfer made and it was time to get started. I thought placement might be difficult, considering that it was supposed to mirror another tattoo. Actually, placement for this one was easier that it had been for the tattoo on my right leg. I figure that he was able to use the existing one as a guide for the new one. The "Aa"s would start on the outside of my calf and wrap around until the "Zz"s met them again at the beginning (another compliment to the LotR one). And it fit perfectly without needing any resizing. Nice! He did have to wipe off the "Ss" through "Xx" a couple of times to get the placement right, and I didn't think anything of it at the time. But more on that later.

So we've gotten down to the tattooing, finally. I started sitting with my leg stretched out in front of me and my pant cuff rolled above my knee. He brought the needle to my skin and I momentarily considered shouting out, "Black?! I wanted it pink!" but decided against it. The first needle strokes always take me by surprise because they hurt more than I remember. It just means that I honestly don't remember the pain when I think of my tattoo sessions. But soon enough, that raw, hot, slicing feeling stopped bothering me and I started to wish that I hadn't left my book out of reach.

I had to flip around into some odd positions as he went around the leg, but never had to hold any of them for very long. Once I started to become uncomfortable, he was ready to move on to another section and I was able to reset myself. I don't recall any one section hurting more than another other, which I found odd as I distinctly remember it's companion tattoo hurting more, especially on the back of the leg.

The section that had given the most trouble during the transfer stage was on my shin, so I was able to sit up and watch as John applied those letters. I guess the transfer had smeared a bit, because he added a curl to the bottom of the "t" that I myself do not write. I watched as he did it, but it was done before I could say anything. I wondered afterwards if it could have been prevented, but it was done so quickly that I'm not sure it could have.

Otherwise, it came out great. Just as I'd written it. The thing is, my handwriting isn't pretty. So it doesn't make for a pretty tattoo. I got just what I wanted, but it made me wish that I had neater writing (especially when seen next to the beautiful calligraphy that Tolkien created that decorates the right leg).

Tattoo done, I was taken to the back to get bandaged up. Here I met possible owner-man again. I guess they switch off for bandaging. He told me that at the shop, they use the "hot towel" method, a procedure that I had not heard of before. Basically, they take a hot (and I mean hot) towel and wrap it around your brand new tattoo for a few seconds. Apparently this helps with healing somehow and keeps the tattoo from lymphing in its early healing stages.

So he gets out this hot towel and tests it on a small area of my skin to illustrate what it's going to feel like. Not too bad, right? And then he puts it on the tattoo. And yeah, it's hot. For a few seconds I'm aware of nothing but that heat. My body soon adjusts (or maybe the towel starts to cool) and I realize that it's really nothing I can't handle. He removes the towel and I can still feel the residual heat. As he puts the pads over my leg, he speed talks through the aftercare routine. It's different from the one I normally use, so I kinda zone him out. I think I was still thinking about that towel and the sunburned feeling it gave my leg.

Bandaging done, I go back to John's cubicle to gather up my stuff, put on my armored pants (a funny idea if you've forgotten that I ride a motorcycle at some point during this epic read) and pay. John takes a good chunk off of the quoted price (either because he's a great guy or because the tattooing took less than an hour...I'll go with the former), but I make up for it with the tip, anyway.

Walking from the shop, I notice that the pants do put a bit of pressure on the freshly-tattooed skin, but that really doesn't do more than provide me with a reminder of what I'd just had done. It doesn't bother me when going through any of the other actions associated with riding.

Whenever I get a tattoo at night, I keep the bandage on until the next morning. They say take it off after four hours, but waiting for ten or twelve has never caused me any problems. And imagine my surprise when, upon removing the bandage, I found that this tattoo left the least ink, blood and lymph on the pad than any of my previous ones. Maybe there is something to this hot towel thing.

Additionally, healing was no big matter. The last of the flaky skin sloughed off by the three-week mark. I was unusually lazy with this one, sometimes forgetting to moisturize it more than once a day. I swear, it didn't even itch. And usually I'm driven crazy by the itching. I did try to fix the curl on the "t", though. Knowing that picking at a tattoo will pull out the ink (which is why you don't scratch that itch), I picked at the scab whenever it formed and even took an X-Acto knife to my leg on a couple of occasions in an attempt to dig the ink out. I did manage to get some of the ink out, but that just means that instead of black, the "t"'s tail is dark pink with scar tissue (and still appears to be obviously there). I don't suppose there's anything to be done about it at this point, so I'm either going to have to live with it, or I'll have to change the way I write my "t"s.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 01 May 2008
in Tattoos

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Artist: John+McIntyre
Studio: True+Tattoo
Location: Hollywood%2C+CA

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